Bachmann brings flair, tea party clout to race

BRIAN BAKST - Associated Press
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, center, answers a question asked by CNN's John King, left, as Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., right, listens during the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Monday, June 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, an outspoken Republican with close ties to the conservative tea party movement, announced that she is running for president, a candidacy that could further shake up a volatile fight for the party's nomination.

The first female contender to enter the 2012 race, Bachmann announced her bid during a Republican presidential debate Monday night in New Hampshire. The third-term Minnesota congresswoman has been leaning heavily toward a run over the past few months, visiting early primary states, raising money and railing against President Barack Obama.

In Bachmann's quick rise from state lawmaker to unofficial tea party ambassador in Washington, her brazen style has kept Republican leaders on edge and appealed to those in the party searching for a fresh, unfettered voice. She relishes the spotlight and seldom cedes ground.

"We cannot risk giving President Obama four more years to dismantle our nation. We must act now," Bachmann said in a fundraising letter sent within an hour of her entrance. "That's why I've made the decision to get in this race."

Her unpredictable edge was on display during Monday night's Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire when, out of the blue, she announced that she had filed papers to be an official candidate for the Republican nomination.

"I do what I say and I say what I mean and I don't change what I do based on a political wind or desire to necessarily move up the next ladder," Bachmann told The Associated Press this spring in an interview in which she stressed her eagerness to "take on not only the opposing party but my own party as well to do what I think is right."

Known for piercing and sometimes inaccurate commentary, she regularly aggravates political foes and provides ample fodder to late-night comics. She once falsely claimed taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for Democratic President Barack Obama's trip to India. She mistakenly identified New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots (that key American moment occurred in Massachusetts).

While some see her as a novelty candidate, she's also regarded as a skilled, resilient politician.

"I know people like to pick at her," said Dan Nygaard, a local Republican official during Bachmann's early days in politics. "But you can never underestimate her."

Bachmann is attempting the rare leap from the U.S. House of Representatives to the presidency.

Despite having low seniority and few policy accomplishments, she has risen to prominence in Washington in part by her frequent television appearances and willingness to attack Obama in sharp terms.

Her popularity with tea party activists and her credentials as a social conservative make her a credible threat to other candidates courting conservatives who make up the core of the Republican Party. Her impact may be felt most in Iowa, the first stop in the nomination battle and where Christian evangelicals dominate.

Bachmann spent the bulk of her political career in Minnesota and Washington as a minority party member, reveling in her role as a fierce voice of the opposition. She didn't let up when Republicans gained control of the U.S. House last fall, enhancing her standing through public breaks with party leaders after she was denied a place in caucus leadership.

The camera-friendly congresswoman has irked some party leaders by grabbing at the spotlight, such as the alternate televised response she delivered to Obama's State of the Union speech this winter.

Her willingness to speak her mind — she once accused Obama of running a "gangster government" — has brought her both loyal fans and plenty of critics.

Since first hinting at a presidential campaign ahead of an Iowa speech in January, she has made sustained trips there and to New Hampshire and South Carolina, all places with an outsized voice in the nominating process. She previously told reporters she would announce her intentions this month in her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa.

Other full-fledged candidates include former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and businessman Herman Cain.

Still a possibility is Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. Palin assisted Bachmann in her 2010 race. And while the two deny any inherent rivalry, the possibility they may both run in 2012 has already stirred up such talk.

Bachmann, 55, enters as a definite factor in Iowa's caucuses, not just because it is her native state and now neighbor. Despite her status as an elected official, she is attractive to Republican activists looking for a candidate with outsider appeal. She particularly resonates with the conservative coalition that led former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to a 2008 caucus win in Iowa.

Before politics, Bachmann was an attorney who at one point chased tax cheats for the federal government. A mother of five and foster parent over the years to more than 20 girls, Bachmann dove into public life during a fight over Minnesota school standards. She spent six years in the Minnesota Senate before winning an open seat Congress, where she's been since 2007.

Bachmann's husband, Marcus, runs a Christian-based counseling clinic.


Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report from Des Moines, Iowa.